Sunday, August 31, 2014

Here's Some More Jelly — Nailed To The Barn Door

Adam Gopnik offers a valuable historical lesson today. Clio is an ephemeral muse and those who would proclaim familiarity with her are contenders for the title of village idiot. In his days in a history classroom at the Collegium, this blogger proclaimed that history didn't repeat itself. That chore was performed by old, bald-headed guys like himself who told the same stuff over and over, year in and year out. If this is (fair & balanced) fulfillment of das ding an sich, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Does It Help To Know History?
By Adam Gopnik

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About a year ago, I wrote about some attempts to explain why anyone would, or ought to, study English in college. The point, I thought, was not that studying English gives anyone some practical advantage on non-English majors, but that it enables us to enter, as equals, into a long existing, ongoing conversation. It isn’t productive in a tangible sense; it’s productive in a human sense. The action, whether rewarded or not, really is its own reward. The activity is the answer.

It might be worth asking similar questions about the value of studying, or at least, reading, history these days, since it is a subject that comes to mind many mornings on the op-ed page. Every writer, of every political flavor, has some neat historical analogy, or mini-lesson, with which to preface an argument for why we ought to bomb these guys or side with those guys against the guys we were bombing before. But the best argument for reading history is not that it will show us the right thing to do in one case or the other, but rather that it will show us why even doing the right thing rarely works out. The advantage of having a historical sense is not that it will lead you to some quarry of instructions, the way that Superman can regularly return to the Fortress of Solitude to get instructions from his dad, but that it will teach you that no such crystal cave exists. What history generally “teaches” is how hard it is for anyone to control it, including the people who think they’re making it.

Roger Cohen, for instance, wrote on Wednesday [8/25/2014] about all the mistakes that the United States is supposed to have made in the Middle East over the past decade, with the implicit notion that there are two histories: one recent, in which everything that the United States has done has been ill-timed and disastrous; and then some other, superior, alternate history, in which imperial Western powers sagaciously, indeed, surgically, intervened in the region, wisely picking the right sides and thoughtful leaders, promoting militants without aiding fanaticism, and generally aiding the cause of peace and prosperity. This never happened. As the Libyan intervention demonstrates, the best will in the world—and, seemingly, the best candidates for our support—can’t cure broken polities quickly. What “history” shows is that the same forces that led to the Mahdi’s rebellion in Sudan more than a century ago—rage at the presence of a colonial master; a mad turn towards an imaginary past as a means to equal the score—keep coming back and remain just as resistant to management, close up or at a distance, as they did before. ISIS is a horrible group doing horrible things, and there are many factors behind its rise. But they came to be a threat and a power less because of all we didn’t do than because of certain things we did do—foremost among them that massive, forward intervention, the Iraq War. (The historical question to which ISIS is the answer is: What could possibly be worse than Saddam Hussein?)

Another, domestic example of historical blindness is the current cult of the political hypersagacity of Lyndon B. Johnson. L.B.J. was indeed a ruthless political operator and, when he had big majorities, got big bills passed—the Civil Rights Act, for one. He also engineered, and masterfully bullied through Congress, the Vietnam War, a moral and strategic catastrophe that ripped the United States apart and, more important, visited a kind of hell on the Vietnamese. It also led American soldiers to commit war crimes, almost all left unpunished, of a kind that it still shrivels the heart to read about. Johnson did many good things, but to use him as a positive counterexample of leadership to Barack Obama or anyone else is marginally insane.

Johnson’s tragedy was critically tied to the cult of action, of being tough and not just sitting there and watching. But not doing things too disastrously is not some minimal achievement; it is a maximal achievement, rarely managed. Studying history doesn’t argue for nothing-ism, but it makes a very good case for minimalism: for doing the least violent thing possible that might help prevent more violence from happening.

The real sin that the absence of a historical sense encourages is presentism, in the sense of exaggerating our present problems out of all proportion to those that have previously existed. It lies in believing that things are much worse than they have ever been—and, thus, than they really are—or are uniquely threatening rather than familiarly difficult. Every episode becomes an epidemic, every image is turned into a permanent injury, and each crisis is a historical crisis in need of urgent aggressive handling—even if all experience shows that aggressive handling of such situations has in the past, quite often made things worse. (The history of medicine is that no matter how many interventions are badly made, the experts who intervene make more: the sixteenth-century doctors who bled and cupped their patients and watched them die just bled and cupped others more.) What history actually shows is that nothing works out as planned, and that everything has unintentional consequences. History doesn’t show that we should never go to war—sometimes there’s no better alternative. But it does show that the results are entirely uncontrollable, and that we are far more likely to be made by history than to make it. History is past, and singular, and the same year never comes round twice.

Those of us who obsess, for instance, particularly in this centennial year, on the tragedy of August, 1914—on how an optimistic and largely prosperous civilization could commit suicide—don’t believe that the trouble then was that nobody read history. The trouble was that they were reading the wrong history, a make-believe history of grand designs and chess-master-like wisdom. History, well read, is simply humility well told, in many manners. And a few sessions of humility can often prevent a series of humiliations. What should, say, the advisers to Lord Grey, the British foreign secretary, have told him a century ago? Surely something like: Let’s not lose our heads; the Germans are a growing power who can be accommodated without losing anything essential to our well-being and, perhaps, shaping their direction; Serbian nationalism is an incident, not a cause de guerre; the French are understandably determined to take back Alsace-Lorraine, but this is not terribly important to us—nor to them either, really, if they could be made to see that. And the Ottoman Empire is far from the worst arrangement of things that can be imagined in that part of the world. We will not lose our credibility by failing to sacrifice a generation of our young men. Our credibility lies, exactly, in their continued happy existence.

Many measly compromises would have had to be made by the British; many challenges postponed; many opportunities for aggressive, forward action shirked—and the catastrophe, which set the stage and shaped the characters for the next war, would have been avoided. That is historical wisdom, the only wisdom history supplies. The most tempting lesson that history gives is to not tempt it. Those who simply repeat history are condemned to leave the rest of us to read all about that repetition in the news every morning. Ω

[In 1986, Adam Gopnik began his long professional association with The New Yorker with a piece that would show his future range, a consideration of connections among baseball, childhood, and Renaissance art. He has written for four editors at the magazine: William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown, and David Remnick. Gopnik, born in Philadelphia, lived his early life in Montreal and received a BA from McGill University. Later, he studied at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts.  In 2011, Adam Gopnik was chosen as the noted speaker for the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Massey Lectures where he delivered five lectures across five Canadian cities that make up his book Winter: Five Windows on the Season (2011). More recently, Gopnik has written The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food (2012).]

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

If Only... Life Imitated Art (Gary Varvel's Editorial Cartoon)

A few days ago, this blogger was minding his own business (a fulltime job) and the telephone rang. It was a call from a chum from long ago and far away. This particular chum was a coffee-drinkin' buddy who was pure Texas. He originated in a rural West Texas cotton community in the same area that brought Governor Goodhair (But No Brains) to the world. In fact, the chum's family doc had an office in Haskell, TX in a neighboring county. That country doctor's daughter became Mrs. Goodhair (Anita Thigpen Perry). Anyway, the chum received an e-mail from one of his schoolmates, a court reporter with a national practice. This woman, no lover of Goodhair (But No Brains) forwarded James C. Moore's essay on the Goohair indictments. This blogger extends an (H/T) to a pair of West Texans for providing an inspiring message about Goodhair (But No Brains). If this is (fair & balanced) vindictiveness, so be it.

[x HuffPo]
Why Rick Perry Will Be Convicted
By James C. Moore

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If the court of public opinion has an impact on a jury's decisions, Texas Governor Rick Perry may have a chance of beating his indictments. While poorly informed Democrats like Obama advisor David Axelrod call the indictments "sketchy," Perry's advisors have him concentrating on defending his constitutional authority to exercise the line item budget veto.

Except that's not what this case is about.

Perry is accused of using his veto authority to coerce a publicly elected official into leaving office. And when the veto threat, and later the actual exercise of the veto didn't work, he may have tried a bit of bribery, which is why he is facing criminal charges.

Not because he exercised his constitutional veto authority.

Some of the media appear to have adopted the Perry narrative that he wanted to get rid of an irresponsible Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg because she had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Lehmberg, whose blood alcohol level was about three times above legal limits, was recorded on video as drunk and belligerent during booking. Perry is arguing he eliminated the $7.5 million dollar budget that Lehmberg managed for the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) because she was no longer responsible enough to run the operation.

But the governor probably had another motive.

The PIU had been investigating the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute (CPRIT), a $3 billion dollar taxpayer funded project that awarded research and investment grants to startups targeting cancer cures. The entire scientific review team, including Nobel Laureate scientists, resigned because they said millions were handed out through political favoritism. Investigations by Texas newspapers indicated much of the money was ending up in projects proposed by campaign donors and supporters of Governor Perry. In fact, one of the executives of CPRIT was indicted in the PIU investigation for awarding an $11 million dollar grant to a company without the proposal undergoing any type of review.

Perry might have been the next target.

The same cronyism appeared to be at work in two other large taxpayer accounts called the Emerging Technology Fund (ETF), and the Texas Enterprise Fund, (TEF), which were supposed to be used to help technology startups and assist companies wanting to move to Texas. In total, the governor and his appointees had purview over about $19 billion and where they wanted it invested.

Why not make sure your contributors get some of that sweetness?

If Perry were able to get Lehmberg to resign, he'd have the authority to appoint her replacement. We can assume that would have been a Republican, and that any investigations might have stuttered to a halt. The DA, however, refused, and began to field threats from the governor's office that the PIU budget was to be zeroed out via line item veto. But the exercise of the veto is not what got Perry indicted.

First, he used the veto to threaten a public officeholder. This is abuse of the power of his office. Presidents and governors frequently use the possibility of vetoes to change the course of legislation. But that is considerably different than trying to force an elected officeholder to resign. What Perry did, if true, can be politely called blackmail, and, when he sent emissaries to urge Lehmberg to quit even after his veto, he may have indulged in bribery. According to sources close to the grand jury, Perry dispatched two of his staffers and one high-profile Democrat to tell Lehmberg if she left her office the governor would reinstate the PIU budget. One report indicates there may have been a quid pro quo of a new, more lucrative job for the DA, which is why this case has nothing to do with his right to use the veto.

But that's where Perry will focus his public defense.

Of course, he will also continue his argument this is another manifestation of partisan politics in Austin. That claim is as misleading as his veto rhetoric. There wasn't a single Democrat involved in the investigation and indictment. In fact, Perry appointed the presiding judge in the case, Billy Ray Stubblefield of the 3rd Judicial District. Stubblefield named retired Judge Bert Richardson of Bexar County (San Antonio) to handle the grand jury investigation, and Richardson picked Mike McCrum to be the special prosecutor in the case. McCrum, who withdrew his name from consideration for U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, had the support of the two Republican Texas U.S. Senators and the state's Democratic officeholders, which hardly makes him a Democratic Party hack. (A Washington gridlock over the confirmation process in the U.S. Senate caused him to withdraw.)

That all makes it hard to sell the partisan attack narrative that reporters are spreading for Perry.

The idea that he was concerned about Lehmberg's drunk driving is also fatuous nonsense. Two other Texas DAs were arrested for DUI during Perry's tenure in office and he spoke not a discouraging word about their indiscretions. Kaufman County D.A. Rick Harrison drove the wrong way into traffic and was found guilty of drunk driving in 2009 and in 2003 Terry McEachern, DA of Swisher County, was convicted of a DUI. Perry said nothing. It's probably only coincidental that both of those individuals were Republicans and did not oversee an investigative unit responsible for keeping elected officials honest in the capitol.

The indictments, however, have not left the Texas governor chastened. During his six-minute news conference after they were handed down, he threatened retaliation for the people involved in getting him into this mess, which is probably another form of official abuse he has promised to deliver to his fellow Texans. His central complaint was that the legal and grand jury investigative process was being used to settle political differences and that wasn't something we did in America, which is a startling irony for anyone who knows how Rick Perry first won statewide public office in Texas.

When Perry ran for Texas agriculture commissioner in 1990, he benefited from a federal investigation of his opponent's office, which had been facilitated by his campaign manager Karl Rove. Rove worked with an FBI agent to investigate Democrat Jim Hightower and two of his senior staffers at a time when Perry was challenging Hightower for the agriculture commissioner's job. The FBI, in fact, served search warrants at Hightower's state office on the day he was out of town announcing his reelection plans.

Perry had been a Democrat and Rove had convinced him to change parties. Rove ran Perry's winning campaign while also constantly leaking information on the federal investigation to reporters. Hightower escaped indictment but the two senior administrators of his office were convicted of raising campaign money for the Democrat during after hours while traveling on state business. One long-time Austin political operative said that if that were a crime, it was "something that only happened about 1000 times a day in Texas."

Consequently, Perry is demonstrably incorrect that Texans don't use the legal system to settle political scores. Instead, we often turn it into a form of tragicomedy. The PIU has prosecuted seventeen officeholders since it was created; thirteen were Democrats. And it will be no minor irony that Perry, who came into statewide office as the result of a grand jury investigation, might just end his career as an outcome of the same process. Ω

[James C. Moore is a senior communications professional with Big Bend Strategies. He has facilitated business development for numerous startups and emergent growth companies. Moore is a board member of a Silicon Valley startup and a two-year board member and founding investor in an Austin tech company. A New York Times best selling author and Emmy award winning former television news correspondent, he has managed proactive communications for numerous enterprises. Moore specializes in message development and positioning to enable effective sales and growth campaigns. He also has expertise in crisis communications, public relations, writing, marketing, and branding. Moore is a frequent guest analyst on network television on the subjects of media and politics. He is the author of several books about George W. Bush and Karl Rove, but the most recent (written with Jason Stanford) is Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush (2012).

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Thanks, Rumster — Here's Another Fine Mess (O'Potamia) You've Gotten Us Into

This blog's poet-in-residence — Calvin Trillin aka "The Deadline Poet" — takes aim at one of the real architects of our Mess O'Potamia nightmare. The current crop of jihadists in Iraq and Syria make Saddam Hussein and the Taliban seem as mild as daycare workers on a sunny day. The black-clad, masked psychopaths roaming the today's Middle East make the characters in Hollywood's slasher films look temperate and restrained. If this is a (fair & balanced) result of our Middle Eastern foreign policy, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Deep Pockets
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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For parts of Iraq where our soldiers have died,
The ISIS jihadists are serious contenders.
So goes the resistance that Rumsfeld
As nothing but pockets of hopeless
 dead-enders. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Roll Over, Henry Luce — Your Weekly Newsmagazine Has Become A Weekly Soap-Opera

Gabriel Sherman has made a virtual hospice visit to most of the major players in the soap-opera that formerly was Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine. Time Inc. is staggering on the brink of financial collapse. The howling of circling New Media wolves is getting louder. In Henry Luce's time, the mantra was "Go West, young man." Today, it's "Go Online, you dummy." Will Time Inc. survive a declining stock price yoked to crushing debt-payments? If this is a (fair & balanced) call to "stay tuned," so be it.

[x NY 'Zine]
The Matter Of Time
By Gabriel Sherman

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In the 92 years since Henry Luce co-founded Time Inc., there have been just seven journalists to hold the title of editor-in-chief. More people have walked on the moon than have sat in Luce’s custom Eames chair in his office on the 34th floor of the Time-Life Building. With wood paneling, private dressing rooms, and sweeping views of Rockefeller Center, the stately backdrop was an emblem of publishing’s glamour and power—Luce’s American Century brought to life. In fact, it was the Time-Life Building that the producers of "Mad Men" turned to when scouting period details for the offices at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

But one morning earlier this month, when I arrive to meet Norman Pearlstine, Time Inc.’s new top editor, he receives me on the second floor, in a modestly furnished office with a street-level view of a Citibike stand and a halal-food cart. As a cost-saving measure, Time Inc. shuttered the 34th floor and relocated senior executives to a former conference center. (Pearlstine has been working here since April.) Next year, the company is scheduled to abandon its midtown headquarters altogether and move into a cheaper space in lower Manhattan. “I really was never a fan of the 34th floor,” says Pearlstine, who occupied it for a decade when he served as editor-in-chief. “I mean, great offices. But it really created barriers.”

The office downsizing reflects the economic realities for Time Inc., the nation’s biggest magazine publisher, whose stable of roughly 90 titles includes the newsmagazines Time, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated, as well as fashion and lifestyle glossies like People, InStyle, and Real ­Simple. Time Inc. titles still generate remarkable cash flows—InStyle sells more ad pages than Condé Nast’s Vogue, and People brought in more than $600 million in revenue last year. But while the company claims that none of its titles lose money, it has seen earnings fall by nearly 65 percent since 2006. The number of advertising pages in the flagship Time has dwindled by 50 percent over the past five years. Even People is sputtering: Newsstand sales slid 12 percent last year, and the news budget has been cut in half. Layoffs have become an annual rite. In the past four years, Time Inc. has churned through three CEOs and endured nine months during which there was no single executive running the company.

Last year, the financial trends and management upheavals broke the patience of Jeffrey Bewkes, CEO of Time Inc.’s corporate parent, Time Warner. “He didn’t like and didn’t know how to deal with Time Inc. in a situation where revenue was flat and they didn’t have the growth characteristics to fix it,” says Don Logan, a former Time Inc. CEO. A steely, by-the-numbers ex–HBO CEO, Bewkes saw Time Inc. as a millstone weighing down his stock price. So after a somewhat desperate play to merge Time Inc. with the Meredith Corporation failed, Bewkes decided to spin Time Inc. off. “It was a financial decision,” Logan says. A newly formed Time Inc. made its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange this June.

Bewkes’s strategy was validated a few days later, when Rupert Murdoch made a stunning $80 billion takeover bid for Time Warner, which represented a roughly 20 percent premium over its stock price. (Time Warner’s board rebuffed the offer, but left many believing the company is still in play.) But for Time Inc., the send-off was brutal. Time Warner had saddled the new company with $1.3 billion in debt and required it to pay Time Warner $1.4 billion to acquire IPC, the British magazine-publishing division, and furnish a dividend to shareholders. Time Warner kept "CNNMoney," a profitable website, as well as "Bleacher Report," a fast-growing online sports destination. Time Inc. journalists, looking at the terms, felt betrayed. “Time Inc. wasn’t given the respect that you’d give a pimple on your ass,” a longtime editor says. By contrast, Murdoch, a print sentimentalist, provided his publishing arm with a $1.8 billion cash safety net when News Corp. split in two last year. “Time Inc. is like Iraq. It’s a dire situation,” says a former senior executive. “The business model is collapsing. And now with the spinoff, it’s too much for one company to bear.”

Iraq it is not, but Time Inc. is the most vivid case study of the crisis confronting all legacy media companies. Condé Nast, which this fall will be preparing for its own move downtown, is also groping for financially sustainable strategies for its titles. (Last month, The New Yorker announced it would adopt an online paywall; this month, the company announced it would be spinning off the magazine Lucky and selling Fairchild, its group of trade publications.) Earlier this year, this magazine reduced its print schedule to biweekly, in part to devote more resources to its digital operations. But arguably no media company faces as challenging a near future as Time Inc., which created the very idea of the modern magazine company and is now forced to decide—very quickly—what a modern magazine company should be.

It’s not easy to find people who want to take on management operations like this. Bewkes first offered the job of CEO to Mike Klingensmith, a former Time Inc. CFO, who turned it down. Last summer, Bewkes settled on Joe Ripp, a blunt, silver-haired finance executive. Ripp joined Time Inc. in 1985 and rose to serve as CFO of Time Inc. and Time Warner. After leaving in 2004, he worked as a kind of corporate firefighter running into burning buildings. In 2008, he became chairman of the Journal Register Company as the newspaper chain emerged from bankruptcy. Ripp slashed costs, invested in digital, and engineered a sale to a hedge fund. “I didn’t go to the best school in the world,” Ripp says (he graduated from Manhattan College in the Bronx). “Somebody told me if you want to have a fun career, take on the hard job.” Time Inc., he says, “is a hard job.”

Ripp had plans to blow up the Luce culture and was getting resistance. “When I came back, I found an organization where almost 8,000 people could say no. And no one seemed to be able to say yes,” Ripp says. Last summer, he invited Martha Nelson, the editor-in-chief, to his Nantucket home and told her he was thinking of doing away with the editor-in-chief title and creating a chief content officer. In this scenario, magazine editors would no longer report to her. Instead, they would work for the titles’ publishers. It would be a tectonic shift for a company that had all but pioneered the concept of the “church-state” separation of journalism and business. “I could not be a part of that,” Nelson told Ripp.

Back in New York, Ripp invited Pearl­stine to breakfast. Pearlstine, who at the time was working at Bloomberg LP as chief content officer, showed none of Nelson’s reservations. “I thought there were so many layers in the editor-in-chief job,” Pearlstine says. “It actually infantilized the editors, and they were being second-guessed on everything from cover shoots to whether the covers had too much yellow in them. I just thought that the editors would be much stronger if they felt really responsible for the brands. If you don’t like what they’re doing, then you change editors.” A few weeks later, Ripp called Pearlstine with an offer. “It took me about five seconds to say yes,” Pearlstine says.

And so, one morning in late October, Ripp called Nelson into his office and informed her she was being replaced with a chief content officer. He couched the move as central to his mission to reinvent the company for the future.

“Who is it?” Nelson asked, expecting Ripp had recruited a new-media visionary from a web start-up.

“It’s Norm,” Ripp replied. According to a person briefed on the conversation, ­Nelson burst out laughing.

“Norm?” she said. “Really?”

The two men now responsible for charting Time Inc.’s future make for an odd pair of change agents: Ripp is 62; Pearlstine is 71. During the last dot-com boom, Ripp was known inside Time Warner as being the skeptic. When one AOL executive told him he thought like “an old-media guy,” Ripp reportedly shot back, “Good, because all you new-media guys are going bankrupt.” But both Ripp and Pearlstine now say they have found religion in digital media. Time Inc., they insist, needs to adapt. “If you have a church and nobody shows up, it doesn’t work so well,” Ripp says. “One of the reasons I have Norman back as my partner and not some kid from Vox is that he understands [Time Inc.’s] traditions. And we understand we need to change.”

When Ripp first discussed taking the CEO job with Bewkes, he said that Time Inc. needed to stop thinking of itself as a magazine company. But what exactly Time Inc. will become depends on who is talking. Ripp tells me it will be a significant player in video. (The company has backed the online channel 120 Sports and has rolled out channels for sports, celebrity news, and business.) Ripp also wants to branch into e-commerce, conferences, and events. Pearlstine praises Forbes’s user-generated content model. He supports “native advertising,” the practice of running sponsored content that looks similar to editorial content, and also said his dream acquisition is LinkedIn. M. Scott Havens, a digital executive Ripp hired from Atlantic Media, recently told The Guardian that Time Inc. needs to build “the next Gilt, the next Facebook.”

None of this talk has eased skeptics’ doubts. “What is this company?” one recently departed editor asked me. “They’ve declared print dead and hastened the end of the magazine business. But they don’t have an idea of what the company is instead.” Given the crushing debt load, roughly two and a half times earnings, that has to be serviced somehow, many inside the company anticipate extreme budget cuts. And Ripp’s finance background has triggered speculation that Time Inc. is being gussied up for a sale. “Private equity could drain the cow until there’s nothing left,” speculated another longtime Time Inc. executive.

Ripp shoots down that idea. “I would not come back to a company that would be bled and drained,” he tells me. “I didn’t want any part of that. This company defined my life.” Instead, he says he’s approaching his job as “a classic turnaround situation.” His model is his corporate hero, Lou Gerstner, the iconoclastic IBM chief who transformed a moribund mainframe manufacturer into a fast-growing technology-services company.

Pearlstine insists the search for new revenue models won’t chill Time Inc.’s journalism. “What doesn’t change is a commitment to editorial independence and editorial integrity,” he says. Dan Okrent, a longtime former Time Inc. editor who consulted for Nelson, sees it otherwise. “The world is filled with excellent publishing companies where editors work for the business side,” he says. “The problem is, if you have an 80-year tradition and then you change it, there has to be a reason. I can’t think of a reason that’s anything but a threat to editorial independence.”

In mid-August, when "Gawker" published an internal company spreadsheet ranking writers in part on how much content they produce that is “beneficial to advertiser relationship,” a chorus of prominent journalists erupted on Twitter. “Henry Luce must be spinning in his grave,” wrote the critic Paul Goldberger. Pearlstine tells me that he hadn’t been aware of the chart—“Had it gone past me, I would have said, ‘What the fuck is this?’ ”—but also that the criticism is overwrought. “It’s bullshit,” he says. “In a dot-com world, if you’re judging people on audience traffic, one of the qualities of those things is ‘Are you creating traffic for advertisers that you can monetize?’ That’s a legitimate question.”

Journalists at Time Inc. are on edge. “All of it confuses me,” says veteran Time columnist Joe Klein. “Everybody is worried, obviously.” A 25 percent cost-cutting target has been set across the company. In recent months, according to sources, there were discussions about converting Time to a biweekly. Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs protested and was able to delay a decision. “If you want to save money you can start with my salary,” she told executives. But she’s had to genuflect to the business side in other matters, scaling down foreign resources in particular.

Pearlstine’s central role in this shift has inspired considerable anger among former colleagues and left longtime relationships strained. In particular, John Huey, the garrulous Southerner whom Pearlstine picked to succeed him as editor-in-chief in 2005, was wounded by the ease with which Pearlstine swept aside Nelson, Huey’s handpicked successor. “There are some folks looking at Norm, who admire him as a journalist, wondering: Why would you want to go out in your last job as a man who gets paid to watch a cadaver put in the ground?” one former senior editor told me. Adds another: “It’s like watching Tommy Lee Jones doing those insurance commercials. It’s like, really? This is sad.”

Pearlstine has heard the criticism and is unfazed. “I love the debate,” he says. He has no trouble arguing he’s made the right decision about ending the church-state separation and says he still regularly reads and weighs in on sensitive stories. “In a fast-moving age for digital, for video, for new technologies, I thought it was really important there was close coordination between edit and the business side,” he says. “I mean, we’re not a cultural artifact at all. We are trying to serve the best interests of our stakeholders and our customers.”

In his long career in business journalism, Pearl­stine has frequently carved out room to practice journalism as a business. At The Wall Street Journal, which he joined in 1968, he wrote the business plan for The Wall Street Journal Europe. As managing editor of the Journal in the ’80s, he watched his reporters cover the boom in leveraged buyouts and in 1992 left to launch a fund of his own. It lasted just a year, until one of its investors, QVC chairman Barry Diller, made a hostile bid for Paramount, infuriating another investor, Paramount chief Martin Davis.

In 1995, Pearlstine became editor-in-chief of Time Inc. But he wanted a hand on the business wheel, too, and tried securing an office next to the CEO. Jason McManus, his predecessor, intervened. “You absolutely cannot do that,” McManus told Pearlstine. “I listened,” Pearlstine now says. “I look back on that and feel it was a mistake.”

Still, he managed to find operational responsibilities—Time Inc.’s international, television, and nascent internet divisions reported to him. In 2001, Pearlstine worked on the $1.6 billion acquisition of IPC. And shortly after he stepped down in 2005, he joined the media and telecom practice of the Carlyle Group, the politically well-­connected superfund. His arrival sparked speculation that he would help engineer a buyout of his former employer, but Pearl­stine tells me that he never looked at acquiring Time Inc. In fact, his timing was terrible. When he was first considering joining Carlyle, private equity was booming, and “it seemed like you could buy anything.” By the summer of 2007, the credit markets had seized, and Pearlstine soon left Carlyle without completing a single transaction.

Now that he’s back in media again, Pearlstine has come to see flaws in the way journalists work. “I think all the journalistic instincts are to have heroes and villains. It’s either ‘this person is good, this person is bad,’ ‘this person is smart, that person is stupid.’ More often than not, there’s a lot of gray. There are a lot of decisions. And I think people who are successful don’t give enough credit to luck. Right place, right time.”

Pearlstine’s decision to leave Time Inc. in 2005: good luck. Revenues had peaked the previous year and were nosing downward. It was left to Huey to confront the darkening financial picture. Complicating matters, Huey’s relationship with Ann Moore, Don Logan’s successor as CEO, was rocky. She’d earned the nickname “Launch Queen” by writing the business plans for InStyle and Real Simple. Huey could be dismissive of the company’s softer, more profitable titles, and was known to say privately that “Fortune was one of the few Time Inc. magazines you couldn’t read when you’re drunk.”

Far more problematic than the sniping on the 34th floor was the lack of a coherent strategy to adapt to the web. Moore’s solution was to hit her profit goals through cost cutting. “Ann was managing to the number,” a former senior executive says. Morale sank as she enacted rounds of layoffs and purged top executives. At times, her management style could be almost comically tone-deaf. She once held a meeting with Time staff in the Leonard Bernstein suite at the Hôtel de Crillon, where she was staying during a Fortune conference in Paris. “We have to get serious about cost cutting,” she declared.

Time Inc. wasn’t alone among media companies flummoxed by the rise of online journalism and the simultaneous deterioration of print-advertising dollars—disorientation, and some level of panic, has been the constant emotional state at every legacy-journalism outlet. But being a division of a sprawling media conglomerate prevented Time Inc. from making significant digital investments, especially since, ironically, it still delivered profits. After the AOL merger, when the business was healthier, Moore tried spinning off Time Inc. She recruited Goldman Sachs to manage the IPO, but Time Warner’s then-CEO Richard Parsons rejected the proposal. “We were like some stupid little colony,” says a former executive. “It was like extraction mining, and absolutely nothing was returned.”

In 2009, Terry McDonell, then the editor of Time Inc.’s sports group, attempted a digital intervention. Apple was rumored to be readying a “genius device” that would save the magazine business, and McDonell partnered with design firm the Wonderfactory to develop a prototype of Sports Illustrated’s tablet magazine. The exercise generated media buzz when McDonell debuted a three-minute video demonstration online. But according to sources, Steve Jobs was upset that the company had released the prototype before he had had a chance to reveal the iPad—and a tablet edition of Time—to the world. “I think it’s stupid. Really stupid,” Jobs told Time Inc. executives during a meeting in New York in 2010 when asked about the prototype. The meeting went downhill from there. Jobs, suffering side effects of hormone treatment following his liver transplant, started tearing up as he complained that Fortune had kicked him when he was down by running a story on his stock-option-backdating scandal. At that moment, Moore walked in and the iPad she began playing with started blaring music. “What do I do? What do I do?” she said, handing it off to McDonell.

By this time, Bewkes was growing increasingly frustrated with Time Inc.’s performance and decided to bring in a new CEO. In August 2010, he tapped Jack Griffin, president of Meredith, a publisher of mid-market titles like Better Homes and Gardens and Diabetic Living. But Griffin’s arrival only deepened the dysfunction on the 34th floor. He struck some senior executives as a poor cultural fit. (In a meeting full of female executives, he joked, “Having come from a company that published women’s titles, finally I have magazines I can read.”) And the outside executives Griffin hired to advise him on strategy became a polarizing presence. Peter ­Kreisky, who had formerly worked at McKinsey, was a particular flash point. One person close to Huey and Nelson says he was an “overpaid blowhard.” Kreisky fires back: “We found feelings of entitlement within the company that really blinded executives, possibly willfully, to the seriousness of new competition,” he tells me.

In early January 2011, Griffin’s conflicts with Huey came to a head. According to sources, Griffin became furious during a meeting when Nelson, then editorial director, openly questioned his plan to invest in Time after pushing for cuts at other titles.

Later that day, Griffin called Huey and demanded that Nelson apologize.

“I won’t tolerate that kind of insubordination,” Griffin said.

“I don’t think you have the juice to take out Martha,” Huey returned.

Griffin hung up and called Time Inc.’s general counsel, asking to see Huey’s contract. Huey began telling friends Griffin was preparing to fire him. Instead, Bewkes, fearing an exodus of top editorial talent, fired Griffin. (Griffin, Huey, and Nelson declined to comment on the episode).

The company drifted for the next nine months without a CEO—months when advertising continued to erode. Bewkes finally hired Laura Lang, whose experience running the digital ad firm Digitas sounded promising. But he was unhappy when, in the fall of 2012, she presented another round of declining numbers. Then, a few months later, Lang found herself in the middle of an embarrassing scandal. At the InStyle Golden Globes after-party at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Lang’s husband made lewd advances toward several female Time Inc. employees, including InStyle publisher Connie Anne Phillips. Time Warner human resources got involved to clean it up. Within a few months, Phillips had been let out of her noncompete contract (she became publisher of Condé Nast’s Glamour) and Lang had left the company with a $19 million severance. (Lang could not be reached for comment.)

Time Inc. had become an intractable management problem for Bewkes. One acute source of frustration was a failing online partnership between Sports Illustrated and Turner Sports, a shotgun attempt to challenge ESPN. Turner executives wanted to promote leagues whose broadcast rights they owned, which angered S.I. editors. At one point, a Turner executive told S.I. not to publish photographs on the site of NBA players wearing jewelry because the league did not like it. “You’re done, we’re going to take you over,” a Turner executive told S.I. editors in one meeting. In 2012, Bewkes dispatched his communications chief, Gary Ginsberg, to mediate. But the relationship had become too toxic to salvage, and Bewkes had by this time already settled on spinning off Time Inc.

Last fall, Ripp arrived at a company in total chaos. At first he treaded lightly. “You’d have to be really arrogant to walk in the door after a 14-year absence and say you know everything about the industry,” he says. “I’m not that stupid.” His first major move was an old-media deal: He finalized the acquisition of American Express Publishing, whose titles include Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, and Departures. But Ripp soon set about recruiting a team who would help him navigate the digital terrain.

On a recent morning, I visit Colin Bodell, an Amazon executive who joined Time Inc. as chief technology officer. With his trimmed goatee and black T-shirt, Bodell looks like a Silicon Valley coder and says things like “I don’t care if it’s the janitor who comes up with the next big idea.” He recently held a “hack day” with Time Inc. engineers, and he’s building a “rapid application development lab” to roll out new content products. “We know we have to iterate very, very fast,” he says. He’s overseen website relaunches that feature cleaner navigation and streamlined publishing tools. His biggest bet so far has been an application called OneBot that allows editors to track where their content is trending online.

Entrepreneurial talk, like “failing fast” and “rapid ideation,” peppers lots of conversations at Time Inc. these days. “I feel we’re a start-up in a lot of ways,” says Paul Fichtenbaum, the current editor of the sports group, where Sports Illustrated’s digital growth is outpacing its decline in print. In May, Time Inc. unveiled the online video series “I [Less than symbol]3 My Closet” and “Eyesore,” a home-makeover show with "SNL" alum Rachel Dratch. In June, it acquired Cozi, an online scheduling application for families. In the coming months, M. Scott Havens says the company will look to launch digital products for technology enthusiasts, teens, brides, and baby-boomers. “We have to invest in the future and break free from the chains of being a magazine company,” he says. Time Inc. has recruited Brian Lew, a mergers-and-acquisitions executive from Time Warner, to hunt for digital deals.

Will all of this be enough? Recently announced second-quarter results show print-ad revenues having declined by another 6 percent and newsstand revenue down 13 percent. Digital-ad revenues jumped 12 percent, to $74 million, but the dollars are minuscule for a company that generates $3.4 billion in total revenue and reportedly could pay up to $50 million in annual debt service. Even if all of Time Inc.’s strategies in video, apps, and conferences take hold, it’s hard to imagine they’ll generate the profits its shareholders expect. Meanwhile, the rumor mill churns: Is Ripp planning to sell off the Alabama-based Southern Progress titles? Will Entertainment Weekly move entirely online? Even Pearlstine was taken aback by the state of the business when he returned. “I called up John Huey and said, ‘Jesus, it was fine when I left,’ ” Pearlstine tells me.

Not long ago, I asked Walter Isaacson, the former Time managing editor, how he would reverse the company’s slide. “It has to find a mission,” he said. “That mission is the social, mobile, and journalistic common ground in an era in which information has become balkanized. It’s about using social media, mobile, and digital to say, ‘There’s a place you can find common ground and common sense.’ ” Other longtime editors worry the clock may have run out. “What the hell do you do?” says Okrent. “Corning was once a glassmaking company that didn’t see much future in making glass, so it became a fiber-optic-cable producer, and I don’t see Time Inc. getting into fiber-optics. As a magazine company, the future looks beyond grim.”

In our conversation, Ripp is less fatalistic. He finds, for instance, the concern about Time Inc.’s debt load overblown: Wall Street would have penalized the company, he argues, if it had enough cash on hand to “dump $500 million on some silly internet thing that doesn’t make any money.” Still, he’s honest about the stakes. “Amazon can invest in helicopters that can deliver your packages and not have to earn a nickel. I do,” he says, with a flash of frustration. “You know the BuzzFeeds and Voxes are valued on the number of buzzes they get. Who gives a damn what that is? We have to make tough decisions, because what’s the alternative? Let it all die? The reality is, magazines as a print business will ultimately die. If we don’t transform this company, someone else will come in and do it.”

As Ripp and I talk, the topic turns to Luce, and I ask him how much he thinks about the company’s founder. The answer is: not much. “Some people say to me, ‘You know, Henry Luce would not have done that.’ And I say, ‘You know the great part about Henry Luce? He didn’t have to worry about what Henry Luce would have done. He wasn’t held to his past.’ ” With a stock price to worry about and debt payments to make, Ripp is too focused on the present. “If we can’t get that right,” he says, “then we’re screwed anyway.” Ω

[Gabriel Sherman is a contributing editor at New York Magazine. Currently, Sherman is also a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation. His first book was a biography of Faux News founder Roger Ailes — The Loudest Voice in the Room (2014). Sherman received a BA from Middlebury College.]

Copyright © 2014 New York Media

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

There Ain't No White-Out — It's Just You And The Ol' Backspace Key (Or Block & Delete)

Every writer who works on a keyboard has a dirty little secret: typos (typographical errors) and Nick Stockton provides a dispassionate autopsy on the disease of defective text. Help is available at TypingWeb's Free Tutorials. Until then, keep hitting the 3rd most popular key on the keyboard: backspace. If this is (fair & balanced) basic secretarial science, so be it.

[x Wired]
Why It’s So Hard To Catch Your Own Typos
By Nick Stockton

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You have finally finished writing your article. You’ve sweat over your choice of words and agonized about the best way to arrange them to effectively get your point across. You comb for errors, and by the time you publish you are absolutely certain that not a single typo survived. But, the first thing your readers notice isn’t your carefully crafted message, it’s the misspelled word in the fourth sentence.

Typos suck. They are saboteurs, undermining your intent, causing your resume to land in the “pass” pile, or providing sustenance for an army of pedantic critics. Frustratingly, they are usually words you know how to spell, but somehow skimmed over in your rounds of editing. If we are our own harshest critics, why do we miss those annoying little details?
The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart, explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of the University of Sheffield in the UK. “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” he said.

As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas). “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” When we’re reading other peoples’ work, this helps us arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

This can be something as trivial as transposing the letters in “the” to “hte,” or something as significant as omitting the core explanation of your article. In fact, I made both of these mistakes when I wrote this story. The first was a misspelling in a sentence that my editor had to read aloud for me before I saw it for myself. The second mistake was leaving out the entire preceding paragraph that explains why we miss our own typos.

Generalization is the hallmark of all higher-level brain functions. It’s similar to how our brains build maps of familiar places, compiling the sights, smells, and feel of a route. That mental map frees your brain up to think about other things. Sometimes this works against you, like when you accidentally drive to work on your way to a barbecue, because the route to your friend’s house includes a section of your daily commute. We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.

This explains why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors. Even if you are using words and concepts that they are also familiar with, their brains are on this journey for the first time, so they are paying more attention to the details along the way and not anticipating the final destination.

But even if familiarization handicaps your ability to pick out mistakes in the long run, we’re actually pretty awesome at catching ourselves in the act. (According to Microsoft, backspace is the third-most used button on the keyboard.) In fact, touch typists—people who can type without looking at their fingers—know they’ve made a mistake even before it shows up on the screen. Their brain is so used to turning thoughts into letters that it alerts them when they make even minor mistakes, like hitting the wrong key or transposing two characters. In a study published earlier this year, Stafford and a colleague covered both the screen and keyboard of typists and monitored their word rate. These “blind” typists slowed down their word rate just before they made a mistake.

Touch typists are working off a subconscious map of the keyboard. As they type, their brains are instinctually preparing for their next move. “But, there’s a lag between the signal to hit the key and the actual hitting of the key,” Stafford said. In that split second, your brain has time to run the signal it sent your finger through a simulation telling it what the correct response will feel like. When it senses an error, it sends a signal to the fingers, slowing them down so they have more time to adjust.

As any typist knows, hitting keys happens too fast to divert a finger when it’s in the process of making a mistake. But, Stafford says this evolved from the same mental mechanism that helped our ancestors’ brains make micro adjustments when they were throwing spears.

Unfortunately, that kind of instinctual feedback doesn’t exist in the editing process. When you’re proof reading, you are trying to trick your brain into pretending that it’s reading the thing for the first time. Stafford suggests that if you want to catch your own errors, you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand. “Once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form,” he said. Ω

[Nick Stockton is a tech reporter at Quartz as well as a contributor to Wired. Stockton received a BS (grography) from Portland State University and an MA (journalism) from New York University.]

Copyright © 2014 Condé Nast/Wired

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lacio, Ergo Sum?

This past weekend, this blogger tuned into the Little League World Series to watch the 13-year-old Wundermädel, Mo'Ne Davis, pitch for her team from inner-city Philadelphia. Davis brought heat with her 70-mph fastball that the talking heads proclaimed to be the equivalent of a big league 90-mph pitch. Plus, she caught the corners of both sides of home plate. All the while, she remained expressionless. If this is (fair & balanced) appreciation of distaff pitching, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
What Does It Mean To "Throw Like A Girl"?
By Eric Anthamatten

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Mo’ne Davis, the 13-year-old pitcher for the Taney Dragons from Pennsylvania, has been the sensation of the Little League World Series. A 70-mile-per-hour fastball, impeccable control, back-to-back shutouts, she’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and has been interviewed by nearly every major television network. Though the Taney team’s run was ended by an exciting game against Chicago — the most-watched Little League game in ESPN history — Mo’ne’s achievement is impressive by any standard. But why is it that her gender is the “anomaly” that makes her talent mediaworthy?

In schoolyards and streets, for as long as most of us can remember, “You throw like a little girl!” has been a common insult, almost always directed at a male. In philosophy, the phrase often leads to the consideration of an influential essay in feminist literature, “Throwing Like a Girl,” by the political philosopher Iris Marion Young, who died in 2006. Her essay, first published in 1980 in Human Studies, and reprinted often since, deconstructs this trope to analyze the patriarchal and essentialist assumptions that give the insult its sting. It is an essential work not only in feminism, but in thinking about the way embodiment shapes subjectivity, and the essay came to my mind often during the exciting emergence of Mo’ne.

The act of throwing is an aggressive one, a projecting outward — like shooting an arrow from a bow or a bullet from a gun — or martial, like throwing a punch. The thrown object aims to hit something, or someone, or at least a strategic mark. It’s not outlandish to think the act first sprung from hunting, with a rock thrown at prey. None of these characteristics, at least within the parameters Young describes, are even remotely associated in our culture with the “feminine.”

Young acknowledged that “throwing like a girl” is an observable phenomenon. The “girlie throw” results from a restricted use of lateral space that tends to come only from the localized part of the body that is doing the action — the hand and forearm — and rarely uses the whole arm, the whole body, or the extended space around the body that is necessary to execute the throw. Women “tend to concentrate our effort on those parts of the body most immediately connected to the task,” she writes, and do not “bring to the task the power of the shoulder, which is necessary for its efficient performance.” Think of the woman as she passes the pickle jar to the man to open. The inability to not open the jar has nothing to do with inherent strength, Young argues, but has to do the utilization of the entire body for the task, something that is not rooted in anatomical or biological “limitations,” but the whole social, political and aesthetic history of how females come to learn to “be” their bodies in space and time.

“[A] space surrounds us in imagination that we are not free to move beyond,” Young writes of women. Such restriction, constriction and fragmentation can be observed in many everyday movements, including the way a woman walks, sits and carries books (“girls and woman most often carry books embraced to their chests, while boys and men swing them along their sides.”). Women’s movements tend to be reserved, protective, and reactive betraying that “the woman experiences herself as rooted and enclosed.” The experience of female embodiment in sexist society closes space, time and the imagined future possibilities of becoming and achievement. It is a closure not just of the body, but of the mind and will. “Feminine existence experiences the body as a mere thing — a fragile thing, which must be picked up and coaxed into movement, a thing that exists as looked at and acted upon,” Young writes.

To be sure, there certainly are boys who “throw like girls” (my own Little League memories involve having my throwing style being laughed at by the other boys). Likewise, there are women who do not have comportments that are so restricted. If you observe bodies on the subway or in any city street, you will see women who move more freely and men who are constricted. More variations would emerge in observing both men and women from African, Asian or Arabic cultures. Young herself writes, “The account developed here claims only to describe the modalities of the feminine bodily existence for women situated in contemporary advanced, industrial, urban, and commercial society.” Young did not mean her theory to be comprehensive or without exception, only to emphasize that, “it is in the process of growing up as a girl that the modalities of feminine bodily comportment, motility, and spatiality make their appearance.”

In Young’s conception, to “throw like a girl” has nothing to do with some mysterious female essence that prevents girls from throwing balls or being athletic, but has its “source in the particular situation of women as conditioned by their sexist oppression in contemporary society.” “Throwing like a girl” is a result of the way that females learn to be in their bodies and learn to move in patriarchal space. “Women in sexist society are physically handicapped.”

For Young, the issue is larger than the physical specifics. It is the body, not the mind or spirit, that is the ground of freedom. She draws from the work of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who, Young writes, locates “subjectivity not in mind or consciousness, but in the body.”

The most obvious image of the loss of freedom is the body shackled in a prison cell. But just because the chains are not immediately visible, does not mean that the body is not surrounded by various social constrictions and limits. If the body is the ground of meaning-making and subjectivity, the female body in sexist society quickly learns to cut off the very medium through which it might make meaning and cultivate subjectivity.

All athletes are broken down into ever-smaller measurable stats: height, weight, 40-yard dash, vertical leap, etc. The language we use to describe the athlete is often language used to describe the inhuman or the animal—“freak,” “beast,”—more so when it comes to black athletes. Further, athletes become an object of capital, a “brand” to be marketed and sold, to have their face and name mechanically reproduced, disseminated, “traded,” and quantifiable as “profit.” Where then remains the subject? Where then the freedom or, in the language of the existentialists and phenomenologists, the “transcendence” of the athlete?

The female athlete has the additional “burden” (de Beauvoir’s way of describing how the female experiences her body) of the contradiction (she must be both subject and object, masculine and feminine, active and passive) that make the obstacles preventing the realization of their subjectivity and freedom seem insurmountable. Mo’ne has already had to face such dismissal and sexism. In an interview on “Fox and Friends,” the show’s host Eric Bolling asked Mo’ne a blatantly sexist question: “What about a you know, typically, uh, I don’t know, more female-friendly sport, like soccer? No?” Mo’ne, without hesitation, replied, “Well, I play soccer actually.” (The way that soccer is often dismissed as “feminized” in American culture is a subject for a whole other essay).

Part of the “contradiction” of female embodiment is the fact that in performing the very activity that would reclaim the patriarchal domination and colonization of the space and time, the woman possibly opens herself to even more scrutiny and objectification. The female body on display, as is the case with athletes, becomes another commodity in the economy of male gazes. Her effort to enter the realm of male freedom through her athletic activity only serves to further discredit her as a female because now she is “manly,” or “butch,” or she becomes a “hot” athlete, a pretty little automaton who is not taken seriously. (Think especially of the different ways in which the popular discourse depicts athletes like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova). “To open her body in free, active, open extension and bold outward-directions is for a woman to invite objectification,” Young writes. It also leads to the “threat of invasion of her body space. The most extreme form of such spatial and bodily invasion is the threat of rape.”

Young female athletes like Mo’ne Davis should be encouraged and supported, not treated as anomalies but as models of what it means to “throw like a girl.” Young girls must learn that their embodiment is a source of freedom, not incarceration, a source of pride, not shame. Athletic activity encourages not only self-mastery but mastery of the space and time through which they become — not to become “strong like the boys,” but to to realize the wholeness of their personality, to be free.

Mo’ne, and all of the other great female athletes past and present, do not only challenge the ways we think about athletic excellence, but, more important, they begin to undo the oppressive and objectified ways in which women come to be in their bodies. Mo’ne is not simply throwing amazing pitches, Serena is not simply acing serves, Maya Moore is not simply swishing nets. They are resisting the colonized space around the female body. They are liberating the female body from its shackles. They are models of activity and autonomy that are as important to gender equality as any law might be.

Freedom is not simply a phenomenon of the will, as the Stoics might insist. Our bodies are both the ground and medium that make freedom possible. To “throw like a boy” or “act like a man” or any of the thousand phrases that use “man” as the model of subjectivity betrays the patriarchal situation inside which our society shapes bodies, shapes what constitute “freedoms” and what types of bodies are allowed to realize those freedoms.

For the woman the very act of reaching back, twisting the body, and hurling an object forward to its target is an act of revolt. It is the assertion of space and place, of freedom and subjectivity. To throw is to not simply be in space, but to be the very ground of space and time. Young’s essay is an important reminder. In this context, to throw is not simply a movement of the body, but a way for the subject to assert herself, her subjectivity, and her freedom by rising above and beyond mere embodiment.

I throw, therefore I am. Ω

[Eric Anthamatten teaches philosophy at Fordham University-Lincoln Center and at Parson’s The New School for Design. He is currently a PhD candidate at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Anthamatten received both a BS (Political Science) and an MA (Philosophy) from Texas A&M University.]

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